Staunton, November 14 –Russia’s expansion in Africa may soon acquire an additional aspect. Now that the Alexandria Patriarchate has recognized the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Moscow Patriarchate is thinking about setting up its own churches and bishoprics in what is historically Alexandria’s canonical territory.
Vladimir Legoyda, the head of the ROC MP’s department for church-society relations, said on his telegram channel that the Moscow Patrairchate doesn’t exclude the possibility of opening its own churches in Africa (t.me/vladimirlegoyda/2669 repeated at ria.ru/20191109/1560751508.html).
The patriarchate official’s remarks came in response to comments by Fyodor Lukyankov, editor of Russia in Global Politics, to set up ROC MP churches in various countries of Africa (https://t.me/ru_global/7750), a possible indication that this idea is already circulating among the Russian political elite.
The Russian analyst observed that “Russians living in Africa, that is, on the canonical territory of the Alexandria patriarch, have regularly appealed Moscow” to open churches for them. But Moscow has refused, citing Alexandria’s canonical territory as a reason. But now that Alexandria has recognized Ukrainian autocephaly, the situation has changed.
In Lukyanov’s words, “everything has shifted to ‘military rails,’” and so a change is possible. It would represent yet another way to punish Alexandria for its decision on Ukraine and it would give the ROC MP a new reach in the world. But there are three important drawbacks that may prevent any move in this direction soon.
First, setting up new churches and even more bishoprics would be very expensive. Second, not all the governments would welcome this; and in some places only the presence of Russian forces might make establishing Russian churches possible. And third, as has happened with other branches of Christianity, such a spread can lead to divisions.
That is because there are so many cultural differences that any church to survive may have to adapt, and such adaptations often play back into and even challenge the rules and authority of the mother church. That has just happened with Roman Catholicism in the case of married priests in parts of Latin America; it could happen with the ROC MP as well.